Referee Sues

January 9, 2019

Donald Jacobs, a basketball referee who is deaf, has sued the Georgia High School Association for allegedly discriminating against him.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Jacobs, who played basketball for the Georgia School for the Deaf, has been officiating for four years as a Tier 3 referee, which has resulted in fewer officiating opportunities and lower pay than the higher tiers. The lawsuit alleges that since referees must attend GHSA camps to obtain higher ratings, the GHSA violated Title II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act by not giving him the same opportunities as his peers who can hear. Jacobs said that because he did not have an interpreter and could not understand the training, he failed to earn a promotion past Tier 3.

“Mr. Jacobs is what high school athletics should be about,” said Mary Vargas, his attorney. “To see someone deaf working as a referee has incredible benefits to students.”

Last August, the National Association of the Deaf sent a letter to the GHSA on Jacobs' behalf asking for interpreters at referee camps, only for GHSA to refuse the request.

“GHSA welcomes Mr. Jacobs to participate in its free, voluntary clinic for basketball referees,” Alan W. Connell, an attorney for GHSA, wrote. “We have had other deaf officials participate in the clinic in past years, and they uniformly provided their own (American Sign Language) interpreter.”

The GHSA declined to comment on pending litigation, but Steve Figueroa, Director of Media Relations, sent an email saying that Jacobs is not an employee.

“To say that Mr. Jacobs (or anyone else) is a referee ‘with the GHSA’ is not quite accurate,” Figueroa said. “The GHSA approves a number of officials’ groups, called associations, and individuals join and work for those associations. They are independent contractors hired by those associations.”

Howard A. Rosenblum, CEO and Director of Legal Services for the National Association of the Deaf, said “employment is challenging for deaf and hard-of-hearing people in this country,” citing statistics from the National Deaf Center indicating that only 48 percent of people who are deaf and hard-of-hearing are employed.

“In Donald Jacobs’ case, it is not an employment issue but rather the failure of GHSA to ensure that its programs and services in the contracting and training of referees are accessible to all including deaf individuals,” Rosenblum said.

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